The 10th largest (by volume) wine-producing country worldwide, Germany has a total of 13 wine regions, five of which – Saale-Unstrut, Ahr, Sachsen, Mittelrhein and Hessische Bergstraße – are miniscule, each with merely a few hundred hectares under vine. As most of their produce is consumed domestically, leaving behind precious little to be exported, these regions remain largely unknown outside of Germany. Named after the eponymous river, Ahr is an anomaly and rarity in many regards.
Both Ahr and Mosel are tributaries of the Rhine, running largely parallel to each other separated by 35km north-south. While Mosel is famed for its whites, the vast majority of which is Riesling, the more northerly Ahr – counterintuitively – focuses on reds, dominated by Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) and its early-ripening mutation Frühburgunder (Pinot Noir Précoce). Lying along the 50th parallel north, Ahr is the world’s most northerly wine-producing region for reds.
Viticulture and winemaking were introduced to Ahr and Mosel around the same time by the Romans. Written records attesting to Ahr’s vinous history dates back to the 9th century and, for the most part of the Middle Ages, viticulture and winemaking were the prerogative of the clergy and aristocracy. Ahr used to produce mainly whites, but subsequent to the Thirty Years’ War, its focus shifted to reds. Through German mediatisation, the Napoleonic Wars and the Congress of Vienna, the Ahr area became part of the Kingdom of Prussia in 1815.
Although Ahr has been producing reds since the 17th century, until some 30 years ago, most of its reds used to be pale, greyish pink and rosé-like, ranging from off-dry to off-sweet. Similar to Mosel, due to the northerly climate, sunshine is of paramount importance to ripeness and quality, and Ahr often makes use of terraces on steep slopes to maximise sunlight exposure. This significantly restricts yield, and what is left to be made into wine is either shipped north to the Ruhr region, or consumed by curious incoming tourists. As demand constantly outstrips supply, Ahr wines are rarely inexpensive.
Weingut Meyer-Näkel has been the driving force behind Ahr’s shift towards producing darker, fuller and richer reds. Back in the 1980s, it pioneered the use of extended maceration and barriques. Currently managed by the fifth generation, the estate has grown from 1.5ha at inception to 18ha, including three Großes Gewächs – equivalent to French Grand Cru – vineyards: Bad Neuenahrer Sonnenberg, Dernauer Pfarrwingert and Walporzheimer Kräuterberg.
Meyer-Näkel Spätburgunder 2014
A single-varietal Pinot Noir, matured in large oak barrels for about 6 months. Translucent ruby with cardinal-crimson rim, the fresh nose offers blueberry, redcurrant, sous bois and violet. With crunchy acidity, delicate tannins and slight petillance, the lively palate delivers cranberry, raspberry, forest floor and geranium. Medium-light bodied at 13%, the fruit-driven entry carries onto an energetic mid-palate, leading to a tart finish.
Meyer-Näkel Spätburgunder 2013
A single-varietal Pinot Noir, matured in large oak barrels for about 6 months. Bright garnet with cardinal-carmine rim, the fragrant nose presents mulberry, red cherry, fine chalk and rose petal. With bright acidity, generous tannins and clean minerality, the fleshy palate supplies boysenberry, rosehip, rooibos tea and crushed rock. Medium-bodied at 13.5%, the juicy entry continues through a tangy mid-palate, leading to a pure finish.
Meyer-Näkel Blauschiefer Spätburgunder 2013
A single-varietal Pinot Noir, matured in old oak barriques for about 10 months. Bright garnet with carmine-crimson rim, the scented nose effuses blueberry, mulberry, clove, black truffle and violet. With vibrant acidity, silky tannins and clear minerality, the chiselled palate emanates blackberry, redcurrant, nutmeg, red tea and sous bois. Medium-full bodied at 13.5%, the urbane entry persists through a composed mid-palate, leading to a focused finish.
To discover the well-kept secret of Ahr, contact Ms Guiomar Pedruco of Macau Fine Wine Bazaar Co. Ltd.; W: www.macaubazaar.com.mo; E: firstname.lastname@example.org; T: +853 2872 0025
Jacky I.F. Cheong is a legal professional by day and columnist by night. Having spent his formative years in Britain,
France, and Germany, he regularly writes about wine, fine arts, classical music, and politics in several languages